Quantcast

New dining options (flex dining) effective October 1, 2019

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

Thirdrail7

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Jul 9, 2014
Messages
4,490
I get that. My point is, you can't always want cheap cheap cheap and expect employees to not take a hit.

The problem with that is what most people (including the upper brass of a lot of consumer supported industries) overlook...and that is value.

If you are eliminating food options....and CUTTING the prices like you did on the STAR, I'm pretty sure most people would look at it differently. However, what are the actual passengers getting for their sacrifice other than "well, you costs didn't go up," or "be lucky you have anything."

You're paying the same level of pricing for a diminishing product....and that is when people start looking at "value." What am I getting for this price? Is this worth the bang for my buck? Are there other options? If you eliminate the experience and the memories (because you're probably not in a rush or expected to be on time), what do people have to look forward to?

As for your position on labor costs, it is one thing for employees to become displaced or laid off (even though the fast act specifically says there should be no layoffs). It is another thing when you diminish the potential of employees by undercutting the ones that remain. There is a reason why OBS has such a high turnover as great deal of their time away from home is no longer compensated.

You get what you pay for.
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
7,821
Location
Ithaca, NY
It seems that if the train consist had 4 sleeper cars and 4 coach cars and carried a "near capacity" load, the train could bring in revenue of around $40,000 per trip. If they are losing money, how much does it cost to operate that train?!?
That train makes money hand over fist. It's highly profitable.

Amtrak's accounting is essentially fraudulent. What they're doing is "allocating" system overhead costs to the train in order to generate phony "losses". This isn't in dispute at this point; everyone who's analyzed the accounting agrees. Amtrak's fundamental financial problem is that it isn't running enough trains to cover the system overhead -- this is a recurring problem with most forms of transportation, which is why it makes sense for the government to just pay for the system overhead out of taxes.

But just so you know, the Silver Meteor is wildly profitable. All honest accounting shows it.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JRR

Cho Cho Charlie

Conductor
Joined
Apr 9, 2009
Messages
2,201
Location
Near an Amtrak station
I also would like to see the ability to reserve a meal prior to your trip - something similar to what American Airlines does for first class meals. I've even been able to pre-order a rather nice "chef-inspired meal" as an economy class passenger. (see. e.g.: https://www.airtransat.com/en-US/Travel-Information-en-US/Inflight-services/Chef-s-Menu-by-Daniel-Vezina )

I like the peace of mind knowing that I don't need to worry about meals being sold out and that I will get my first choice.
That certainly sounds like the beginning of a very good idea, but in looking at those menus, that's not the type of pre-prepared meals I want. For breakfast, I am a pancake or RR French toast type of person, and not so much into spinach omelets and goat cheese crepes. Likewise for dinner, goat cheese (a theme here?) and leek Shepard's pie, or duck lasagna, are not what I crave even when I am going first class. Give me a nice steak, chicken with a good sauce on it, or even a well executed hamburger.

Unfortunately, I don't think any of the meals I would want, work well being served in a box. Maybe just a baloney sandwich for dinner? ;)
 

neroden

Conductor
Joined
Feb 23, 2014
Messages
7,821
Location
Ithaca, NY
If one does a year to year comparison there are drops in both the capitol limited and lake shore while some other trains have an increase so far this year. Granted you have to look a few long distance train ridership over a multi year period to get the picture as there are also many others factors that can affect ridership - for one the lake shore had a period last year where there was no New York section
Huge damage to ridership from that. It was widely reported, front page NYT news... but the restoration of service wasn't reported. There are still people who don't realize the train is running. Whatever Operations thought, it was an error because it was a public relations disaster. You can't let Operations tell you how to run your railroad; they're blinkered.

and you also have to figure in longer term outages due to nature or other incidents that can have a big effect on a once a day trains ridership. I guess they probably measure success by an equation: does the reduction in costs associated with contemporary dining pay for any reduction in ridership and then some or not.
I seriously doubt that they're anywhere near that competent. Amtrak is absolutely notoriously bad at accounting, and that's an accounting problem. Reduction in ridership and revenue operates on a time lag from reduction in service quality, as you know. I doubt that Amtrak even knows whether this move was marginally-profitable or marginallly-loss-making. I expect that it was marginally loss-making, just because of the loss of sales to coach passengers.

If the former is the case they probably consider it successful. I am disappointed but not surprised by the changes - most of my frustration is for the employeess who will be affected. Contemporary dining could be acceptable if some changes were made to improve the presentation and experience in the car - preordering before a trip would also be a big enhancement to help with stocking issues,
Yes, they need to stop running out of things. And selling meals to coach customers is pretty much essential. They've been throwing away profits.

but no improvements will help out any of the laid off employeees - and there are some great employees among that group that I have personally been served by in the diner. I am not defending the changes, merely trying to be open to them as I still do enjoy the train regardless of the food and flying isn’t really an option for me, but I do feel bad for the employees and hope they make some improvements to the model along with the expansion - it probably would have been better for them to make some further improvements this year on the capitol and lake shore before expanding it.
Certainly.
 

Barb Stout

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
479
For a short time, Amtrak had a recipe for loyal passengers. A great guest rewards program where they actually rewarded passengers with free trips. Not this so many dollars equals so many points that converts back to so many dollars.

Wine tastings on the starlight , builder, and lake shore. The parlor cars. The enhanced dining on some trains. That was really a great era of rail travel in the USA.

Now that era came after the simplified dining service, which wasn’t much better than contemporary dining. So there is still hope.....
What was the guest reward plan characteristics before and when did they change to the current rendition?
 

Rasputin

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 17, 2019
Messages
743
I'm almost tempted to try to do an Atlanta trip on Crescent before September 30, as I'd never ridden that route before. And also, due to the fact it'd allow me to have a dining meal (s) while on the Crescent at least once.
I would certainly recommend a trip from Washington to New Orleans on the Crescent. I don't get real excited about just Washington to Atlanta because most of the trip is at night. If you can only do a trip over part of the route I would prefer to go between Atlanta and New Orleans in either direction.
 

Barb Stout

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
479
A big chunk of members on here complain about the cost of the train tickets, yet advocate for employee wages that are high and with good benefits. I'm reading a lot of Amtrak pays for this and that yet cost of the train ticket is the biggest gripe on this forum.

How about we cut the inclusive dining with the sleeper ticket, increase the price of the sleeper, get rid of the senior discount (All discounts), increase the cost of the coach ticket and use the savings and increase in ticket prices (With a guarantee written into law) to pay rest of the train crew higher wages and better benefits?

It's not a problem specific to this forum, happens in the aviation forums as well. Everyone wants cheap tickets and also think flight attendants should all get fat pay and benefit packages.

Before talking about the race to the bottom, I think we need to reflect on our own actions and attitudes that contribute to the race (Not just Amtrak).
I can't say that for being a forum member for a few months now that I have seen "a good chunk" of people complaining about the prices. I have seen a few folks mention going coach because they can't afford a sleeper, but I don't consider that a complaint.
 

keelhauled

OBS Chief
Joined
Oct 3, 2014
Messages
863
Location
Camorr
I guess I don’t see food changes/cutbacks/whatever you call them as being the death knell for long distance trains. After all, what do they have going for them to begin with? Frequently late, generally no faster than road travel and obviously nothing close to air, inconvenient calling times at many stations, limited frequencies, often times marginal station facilities and locations, and fares that are in general not exactly frugal. It seems that most Amtrak travel is in spite of its qualities, not because.

So while I don’t doubt that there is a certain subset of riders who won’t travel without the dining car, I would wager that the majority of the market would continue to ride. I expect Amtrak management sees it similarly, and furthermore thinks that whatever customers they lose can be replaced by both the natural expansion of the market with a growing population, as well as those people who do not have the memory of food service as it was previously executed.
 

Barb Stout

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
479
IMHO, cutting meal service sucks. Period.

And, yes, it will keep me, the casual, occasional passenger from using the eastern trains.

I will spend my $$$$ on what I want from my train experience. Part of that is a warm meal in the dining car, with a menu to choose from. Not a boxed meal consisting of who knows what. With a menu, I can choose my entire plate of food, in a prefab box, I get what someone else chose for me. Not the way I will spend my hard earned $$$.

If the boxed meals go system wide, no more overnight trips for me.

If that makes me "not a railfan" in the eyes of someone else, so be it.

C'est le vie.
Last year my sister and I took the Lakeshore Limited after boxed meal "Contemporary Dining" was introduced. We did have a choice of what was in the box, although I don't remember how many choices there were. We also got a complimentary "glass" (actually, plastic to avoid breakage) of wine. We were staying in a roomette. I'm not fussy about food and so I didn't really notice a big difference between the meals in the dining car on the SWC which we also took that same trip and the boxed meals. I would much rather eat boxed meals than having to get off the train in the middle of the night in Kansas to be bustituted to Albuquerque. The latter would probably be a deal-breaker for me as I live in ABQ and go east to visit relatives every summer.
 

Barb Stout

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 13, 2019
Messages
479
I guess I don’t see food changes/cutbacks/whatever you call them as being the death knell for long distance trains. After all, what do they have going for them to begin with? Frequently late, generally no faster than road travel and obviously nothing close to air, inconvenient calling times at many stations, limited frequencies, often times marginal station facilities and locations, and fares that are in general not exactly frugal. It seems that most Amtrak travel is in spite of its qualities, not because.

So while I don’t doubt that there is a certain subset of riders who won’t travel without the dining car, I would wager that the majority of the market would continue to ride. I expect Amtrak management sees it similarly, and furthermore thinks that whatever customers they lose can be replaced by both the natural expansion of the market with a growing population, as well as those people who do not have the memory of food service as it was previously executed.
The other things that train travel have going for it that you didn't mention is 1)watching the beautiful scenery (and sometimes ugly, but interesting) without having to worry about watching the traffic instead if you're driving, 2)walking/moving around which you can't do on buses or planes very well and the related 3)not being constrained/pinched/injured by seat and shoulder belts which is why I don't like to drive, 4)meeting congenial fellow travelers which happened only once to me while flying, 5)no changes in air pressure messing with one's sinuses, eyes and ears, and if you are using a sleeper, 6)sleeping in a horizontal position and being rocked to sleep by the motion of the train, (My sister said sleeper nights are the best night sleep she gets.), 7) while also saving the cost of a hotel which in many places is beyond my means while still moving and getting to one's destination. And in addition for me, although I get carsick in cars and buses, it hasn't happened on the train (yet?).

I will definitely still take the train without the dining car, but there does naturally have to be some food available on the train for sustenance. Most of us are not used to going more than 24 hours without food.
 

JoeBas

Conductor
Joined
Dec 30, 2011
Messages
1,098
So while I don’t doubt that there is a certain subset of riders who won’t travel without the dining car, I would wager that the majority of the market would continue to ride.
Whack the loyalty program, it'll only cost 3% of the ridership, and the majority will continue to ride.

Whack the discounts, it'll only cost 3% of the ridership, and the majority will continue to ride.

Whack the baggage cars, it'll only cost 3% of the ridership, and the majority will continue to ride.

Whack the flexibility of fares, it'll only cost 3% of the ridership, and the majority will continue to ride.

Whack the dining cars, it'll only cost 3% of the ridership, and the majority will continue to ride...

.

.

.

Hey, why the hell is ridership off 15%???
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,683
What was the guest reward plan characteristics before and when did they change to the current rendition?
It was zone based. A roomette in 1 zone was 15,000 points regardless of where I went. It also covered the max occupancy, so I could bring a friend, or travel solo for that 15,000 points.

For a 3 zone redemption I went from LA to Portland, Portland to Chicago, and Chicago to NYC in a roomette. That was in the days of free wine tastings on all 3 of those trains, and free cheese on the starlight and lake shore, and free champagne on the starlight and builder. Plus the parlor car.
 
Joined
Dec 26, 2014
Messages
2,861
Oddly enough, although I detest most of Amtrak's recent changes, I like this one. If you want to book a sleeper with points, you can do it now for a relatively short distance, and it will be reasonable. For example, under the old system, I could get a sleeper on the Meteor from Philadelphia to Winter Park, Florida, for 15,000 points. I could also get a sleeper on that same train from Philadelphia to Alexandria, Virginia--just a few hours, but it would still be 15,000 points.

With the new system, I can get Philadelphia to Alexandria for just under 6,000 points in a sleeper on the Meteor, and sometimes the cash cost was the same or less than the business class on the basic Regional, so it was a nice treat to do that and have my own room for a few hours, plus dinner in the dining car, which of course would have been ridiculous to do for just a few hours under the old system.

Of course, now with no more dining car, I won't bother, because a picnic in a box is not a treat.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,683
I expect Amtrak management sees it similarly, and furthermore thinks that whatever customers they lose can be replaced by both the natural expansion of the market with a growing population, as well as those people who do not have the memory of food service as it was previously executed.
I think that’s the problem. Amtrak thinks they can attract millennials with food trucks. Time will tell how that works out for them.
 

me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,259
Let's look at operating costs. Specifically, let's look at the operating profit and losses.


Mind you, other eastern long distance trains lost less money as well. But that's the point. Contemporary Dining doesn't reverse that overall trend. I freely admit that this is a very shallow look into the overall issue - and that I am probably in over my head here, but it is safe to say that rumors of the demise of these trains were greatly exaggerated.
Shallow look is right. You have provided nothing that indicates what effect C.D. has had on either profit/loss or ridership. Remember, people lost their jobs- it's not just a change in meals. In addition, station agents having nothing to do with dining but having much to do with profit and loss also lost jobs.

Then, again, since Amtrak has been accused for "cooking the books" (in lieu of cooking the food?) about losses and costs of long distance trains.

And nobody expects that suddenly people will stop taking the trains. But as service goes down and prices go up, loss of ridership over a number of years could give Amtrak justification for more cuts until too few people take the train and elimination can be justified. That's how the railroads did it.
 

siena1965

Train Attendant
Joined
Aug 9, 2016
Messages
30
I will be booking a ticket for train 97 nyp to orlando soon for travel in feb 2020. should i wait till after oct to see if price will go down with out the dinning car.
 

pennyk

Conductor
Staff member
Administator
Moderator
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Jul 5, 2009
Messages
10,387
Location
Orlando, FL
I will be booking a ticket for train 97 nyp to orlando soon for travel in feb 2020. should i wait till after oct to see if price will go down with out the dinning car.
When booking the Silver Meteor, I always book as soon as possible. I usually get the best fare and a choice of rooms. My guess is that the price will not go down after October 1st. It is not losing its dining car per se, it will be transitioning from cooked meals with a chef in the kitchen and contemporary/boxed meals. The prices on the Capitol Limited and Lakeshore Limited did not go down when those trains transitioned.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JRR

Palmland

OBS Chief
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
849
Location
Carolinas
Perhaps Amtrak realizes this and is retaining full service dinner for sleeper passengers with a few enhancements. If so, that has to be encouraging compared to the present mediocre service.

And maybe they’re making it less attractive for coach passengers (no meals, no diners or lounge just 1 CCC) that will enable them to add sleepers and attract more premium fare passengers. Next step, sleeper only for the Florida Special A-T(Just adding a little humor).
 

jis

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
25,847
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
Perhaps Amtrak realizes this and is retaining full service dinner for sleeper passengers with a few enhancements. If so, that has to be encouraging compared to the present mediocre service.

And maybe they’re making it less attractive for coach passengers (no meals, no diners or lounge just 1 CCC) that will enable them to add sleepers and attract more premium fare passengers. Next step, sleeper only for the Florida Special A-T(Just adding a little humor).
Carrying on in the same vein those extra Sleepers will of course come from the Southwest Chief which will get the extra Coaches from the AutoTrain to become a Coach only train? [emoji55]
 

seat38a

Conductor
Joined
Jan 26, 2014
Messages
2,025
Location
Orange County California
The problem with that is what most people (including the upper brass of a lot of consumer supported industries) overlook...and that is value.

If you are eliminating food options....and CUTTING the prices like you did on the STAR, I'm pretty sure most people would look at it differently. However, what are the actual passengers getting for their sacrifice other than "well, you costs didn't go up," or "be lucky you have anything."

You're paying the same level of pricing for a diminishing product....and that is when people start looking at "value." What am I getting for this price? Is this worth the bang for my buck? Are there other options? If you eliminate the experience and the memories (because you're probably not in a rush or expected to be on time), what do people have to look forward to?

As for your position on labor costs, it is one thing for employees to become displaced or laid off (even though the fast act specifically says there should be no layoffs). It is another thing when you diminish the potential of employees by undercutting the ones that remain. There is a reason why OBS has such a high turnover as great deal of their time away from home is no longer compensated.

You get what you pay for.
I'd like to see a comparison of rail ticket prices in 1971 adjusted for inflation to todays prices. We had a similar conversation regarding dining car prices a year or so ago and pretty much it was flat when adjusting the prices of the menu on Amtrak History page. Unfortunately I'm having trouble finding historical ticket prices online. "IF" the prices adjusted for inflation is flat or lower today, would you rather they cover their cost by cutting or raising the ticket prices? Keep in mind, labor, maintenance, station agents etc would rather have wages that are inflation++.

I read a good article last year on linkedin regarding how so much of our "Cheap" everything lifestyle is subsidized via gutting labor. Unfortunately I can't find the article to share, but it used Uber/Lift to demonstrate the race to the bottom. It also mentioned blaming Wall Street is the pot calling the kettle black since the same rider, regardless if they know it or not, has their hand in Wall Street via Mutual Funds, Stocks, Bonds, Pensions, Retirement etc that that are part of this race to the bottom. 50%+ of Americans own stocks either directly or indirectly, so with so many of us wanting cheap in our everyday life and high returns on our investment, labor is bound to get hit hard.

Here's a funny video for some, and not so funny for those who are in a similar situation.
 

ehbowen

Conductor
Joined
Mar 22, 2011
Messages
2,340
Location
Houston, Texas
I'd like to see a comparison of rail ticket prices in 1971 adjusted for inflation to todays prices. We had a similar conversation regarding dining car prices a year or so ago and pretty much it was flat when adjusting the prices of the menu on Amtrak History page. Unfortunately I'm having trouble finding historical ticket prices online. "IF" the prices adjusted for inflation is flat or lower today, would you rather they cover their cost by cutting or raising the ticket prices? Keep in mind, labor, maintenance, station agents etc would rather have wages that are inflation++.
I have a few ticket price lists from 1971 (and earlier) on my web site, Streamliner Schedules.

Edit To Add: Others have done the math. Basically, you'll find that sleeping car fares have more or less kept pace with inflation (although I would argue that the value of the experience has declined in recent years) while coach fares, both air and rail, are much, much cheaper than they were in the days before airline deregulation. See also this: Train Travel Then and Now: A Comparison of Historic and Modern Pricing.
 
Last edited:

Just-Thinking-51

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
AU Supporter
Joined
Sep 17, 2009
Messages
1,976
Location
USA
I think that’s the problem. Amtrak thinks they can attract millennials with food trucks. Time will tell how that works out for them.
Lets not forget the GI system of the passengers are a bit more unforgiving than millennials. Can’t wait for all the food poisoning cases.
 
Top